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Relief in focus as survival hopes fade
Updated: 2005-01-03 01:40

Remarkable stories of survival emerged yesterday even as worldwide focus shifted from rescue to relief yesterday.

But resurging numbers of confirmed dead in Indonesia and Sri Lanka pushed the total deaths in the earthquake and tsunami close to the expected toll of more than 150,000.

Hopes of missing foreigners are also fading. More than 2,900 Swedes, 1,100 South Africans and 1,000 Germans are still unaccounted for. Italy, Switzerland, Austria and France each has hundreds missing.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he feared that 159 missing Britons were "highly likely" to be victims. Forty Brits have so far been confirmed dead in the December 26 disaster.


In Malaysia, a 23-year-old Indonesian woman who clung to a sago tree for five days was delivered to a hospital by a tuna ship that picked her up last week, an industry official said.

On Sunday, Indonesian fisherman Tengku Sofyan was found, wasted by dehydration and hunger, underneath the wreckage of his boat, which was thrown ashore and upturned over him on December 26.

"He's in extremely fragile condition, especially mentally,'' said Dr Irwan Azwar, who treated Sofyan.

Four Indonesian fishermen were found alive on Saturday in the Andaman Sea, six days after their boat was pushed out to sea, officials said yesterday.

Despite the isolated stories of hope, the overall situation was bleak.

Along the coast of Sumatra, the island closest to the epicentre, some boats were clearly damaged, while others appeared to have emerged from the disaster unscathed. But there was no sign of life at all.

In coastal villages such as Kuede Teunom, survivors in tattered clothing grabbed at bottles of water dropped from the air.

The tsunami turned the world upside down for people living as far away as Somalia, 4,800 kilometres away on the east coast of Africa.

Throughout the affected areas, lists of the missing increasingly looked like little more than wishful thinking, as officials sped up the burial of decomposing corpses -- many still unidentified -- that were piling up in the intense tropical heat.

Hope is fading fast for the tens of thousands still missing.

"There is very little chance of finding survivors after seven days,'' said Lamsar Sipahutar, the head of the search team in Indonesia. "We are about to stop the search-and-rescue operations.''

Indonesia added another 14,000 people to its official death count on Monday, while Sri Lanka upped its toll by more than 1,400 to pass the grim mark of 35,000.

India and Thailand said they were preparing to give up on some 10,000 still unaccounted for.

The tsunami struck at least a dozen nations on the edge of the Indian Ocean with little advance notice, and Indonesia announced plans yesterday to work with its Asian neighbours to establish a natural disaster warning system.

Aid workers, meanwhile, were trying to help the millions of displaced people put their towns and villages back together.

In Sri Lanka, day after day parents come at dawn and wander the beach in the devastated districts of Ampara and Batticaloa.

"They believe their kids are alive and the sea will return them _ one day,'' UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said on Sunday, after touring this island country's devastated shore.

So far, governments and global organizations have pledged about US$2 billion in relief, a quarter of it from Japan. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan plans to arrive in Jakarta on Thursday to co-ordinate aid efforts at a donors' conference there.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother, are to travel to disaster areas in Thailand and Indonesia on their way to the Jakarta conference.

US presidents

President Bush, center, announces, Monday, Jan. 3, 2005, in the Roosevelt room at the White House, that he is appointing former Presidents George H.W. Bush, left, and Bill Clinton, right, to head up efforts to raise money for the massive American relief operation in the Asian tsunami-battered regions. [AP]
President George W. Bush has tapped former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to lead a US charitable fund-raising effort for victims, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

International donors have so far pledged about US$2 billion. The destruction of roads, ports and airfields has hampered relief efforts, nevertheless.

In New York, UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said 1.8 million people in tsunami-hit countries would need food aid and that figure could rise. It would take about three days to get food to 700,000 people in Sri Lanka but much longer to reach the 1 million hungry people in Indonesia, he said.

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